January 2010


Standing on the cusp of my first cancer-versary, I’m surprised (but not) to note how much I’ve changed during the past 12 months. The most obvious and painful souvenirs of my trip to cancerland are also the most permanent—the two neat scars, like dash marks, running across my chest. The psychological shifts are harder to see.

Some days I feel like a completely different person, as if my body was hollowed out and re-stuffed. Other days I feel as though I’ve simply settled more deeply into myself, as if my psyche moved from the second floor to the basement apartment.

As cliche as it sounds, I’m less likely to sweat the small stuff (a parking ticket, a hole in my sweater, cat litter on the furniture–eww) and more likely to do annoyingly upbeat things (like hum in the shower). One of the most notable shifts is both physical and mental: a profound need to stay put.

I’ve always been a homebody. I like routine. I relish the simple stuff  like cooking, walking the dog, and practicing yoga. At night I love cuddling on the couch with Mary to watch a movie or laugh at bad reality shows. I love sleeping in my own bed. Since I need a lot of alone time and dislike crowds, confined spaces, and flying, travel has always presented a challenge. But I bite the bullet because I know I’ll be happy once I’m there.

So, last summer, after I’d physically healed, I thought I was ready to hit the road. Nothing crazy, just a few trips to visit friends and family. Oy, big mistake. Somewhere along the way, my travel angst blossomed into a full-blown aversion. Departing for each trip felt like walking off the gangplank into a churning sea of chaos and confusion. Mary deserves a medal of honor for traveling with me because I was a mess. In DC, I burst into tears when we got lost leaving the rental car facility. In San Francisco, my favorite city in the world, I felt physically pummeled by the city’s vibrancy and spent most of the trip in our hotel room, dodging maid service and crying. Fun times.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was mired in a bog of depression and traveling exacerbated my sense of helplessness. (I’m doing much better now, thanks.) Finally, at the end of my last trip, I had a complete and utter meltdown and realized that what I really needed was to stay home, so that’s what I’ve done. For the past four months I’ve stayed home and the world feels right again.

Shortly after my epiphany, Dana Jennings, a writer for The New York Times who blogs about his experience with prostate cancer, posted an entry about his sudden desire to stay home. He writes, “More than ever these days, I want to shrink the world to the couple of rooms in my house where I’m most comfortable…I’m still reinterpreting myself in the face of cancer, and that takes time and quiet.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Coming Full Circle

I’ve never liked January. Between the cold, the gray, and the post-holiday blues, the slog to February feels like an annual chore. But, as the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis draws near, I am in a surprisingly good mood. In fact, I’m positively upbeat. That’s because, compared to last January, this one feels light, airy, and carefree. Who cares about gloomy skies and frigid temperatures? Heck, at least I don’t have cancer! So what if it’s -10 degrees out with the wind chill? At least I don’t have to crawl out of my warm bed at 6am for a doctor’s appointment in Indy. More snow? Bring it on. Last year, the only significant snow accumulation fell on the day of my diagnosis. That was doubly depressing because, typically, Mary and I celebrate snow by breaking out the cross-country skis, putting the dog in the car, and heading for the University’s golf course where I scoot, she skis, and the dog runs cabin-fever-fueled laps around us. We laugh and putter around the snow-covered greens until our cheeks are frozen and the dog runs out of gas. It’s the best thing about winter. Last winter, the skis stayed in the basement. The dog sulked. Not so this year. So far this month, I’ve been skiing three times. The snow is gone now, but I’m hoping for more because, after all, it’s January.